Cycling: Fast but Slow

By Brian Treanor

 

When talking about biking around Los Angeles, I often hear non-cyclists offer some version of the following lament: “I’d love to bike in LA, but it takes so much time.” I understand the source of this concern, but I think such comments miss the mark on two counts. First, bicycling is much faster than most non-cyclists suppose and, second, perhaps paradoxically, the slowness of bicycling is precisely its attraction.

 

Many people fear that traveling by bicycle will take too long, making them late for work or other appointments. However, while it’s true that cycling could take more time in certain situations (more on that in a moment), it’s not always the case. Far from it. My bicycle is my primary mode of transportation, and I regularly beat friends in cars from my neighborhood (Studio Village/Lindberg Park) to Downtown Culver City. While they are stuck in traffic or looking for parking, I roll right up to Ugo or Native Foods and park my bike (for free I might add). I’m already seated—and perhaps enjoying my first drink—by the time they arrive. My daily commute to work takes a bit longer, but given the vagaries of traffic patterns it’s not uncommon for me to make the five mile bicycle trip just as quickly as I would be able to drive it. I should point out that I’m just a regular guy on a heavy cargo bike, not a semi-pro on some carbon-fiber racing machine. Even on days when it takes longer, it’s only a matter of a few extra minutes. The net time saving is still large when you take into account that I don’t need to spend time in a gym to get my daily exercise.

 

Recently, some enthusiastic cyclists demonstrated that, far from being an anachronistic throwback to the 19th century, bikes are actually the most efficient and fastest way to traverse Los Angeles. Back in July during “Carmageddon” a team of cyclists from the Wolfpack Hustle biking club beat someone using Jet Blue’s commuter flight from Burbank to Long Beach. It wasn’t even close, though in full disclosure I should mention that the Wolfpack A team was made up of dedicated riders: the cyclists took 1 hour and 34 minutes door-to-door (while following all traffic regulations) and the combination of taxi and commuter flight took 2 hours and 54 minutes!

 

Now, it’s true that most of us won’t be biking as quickly and efficiently as the riders from Wolfpack Hustle, but this raises a second issue: why on earth would you want to? Looking around LA, a large percentage of our cyclists seem pretty focused on going as fast as they can—heads down, clad in racing kit, and drafting in single file. There’s nothing wrong with that of course—I’ve got a number of friends who race as amateurs or semi-pros, and cycling is an excellent way to say healthy—but I want to say a word for slow cycling.

 

Slow cycling is not necessarily about taking more time to get from point A to point B, but more about the quality of that time, however long it takes. According to a 2008 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly half of Americans say they would like more bike facilities in their communities. I suspect that this is largely attributable to the fact that it is simply more pleasant to travel by bike than by car. Indeed, large percentages of Americans consistently claim that they wish that we put more of an emphasis on leisure and less on work. Internationally, we’ve seen the rise of Slow Food, Cittaslow (slow cities), and Slow Living. We all claim that we wish we had more time, so “don’t just do something; stand there.” That is to say, take your time; enjoy the process, the moment, and the place in which you find yourself. A significant portion of our manic rush is self-imposed. It’s true that we all have some commitments that demand a meticulous attention to detail on our part, but should we really let that fastidious punctuality bleed over into every aspect of life? Can you really be late for grocery shopping? Or for arriving at the park with the kids? Take some time and enjoy the ride.

 

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